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The Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach (CRREO) recently released the first annual Regional Well-Being Report for Dutchess, Orange, Sullivan, and Ulster County.  The eight well-being categories covered in this report are Economy, Education, Environment, Community & Equity, Governance, Health, Arts & Culture and Safety. 

The categories are rated from 0 to 100.  Ulster County scored very well in three categories, with an 80 in Arts & Culture, 71 in Safety, and 70 in Governance.  Dutchess County was the only other county that scored at least a 70 in any category, scoring a 71 in Governance.  To see the full report CLICK HERE.

Regional Snapshot

The region has a total land area of 3,715 square miles. It is nearly twice the size of the state of Delaware. Ulster County alone is larger than the state of Rhode Island. Nearly one million people reside in our four-county region.

Dutchess County has almost a third (31%) of the region’s people, but less than a quarter (22%) of the land area. About two in five (41%) regional residents live in Orange County, where there is a land area about the same as in Dutchess (22%).

Sullivan County, with more than a quarter of the land (26%), is the least populous (8%). Ulster County has 30% of the land in the region and 20% of the population.

Age: About one quarter (23%) of our region’s residents are under the age of eighteen. Twenty-three percent are age 18 to 34, 30% are age 35 to 54 and 24% are 55 years of age or older.

Children, those under age 18, live in 36% percent of regional households. Seniors, those age 65 or older, reside in 23% of the households in the region.

Race: Seventy-five percent of residents in our region are white, 12% are Hispanic or Latino, 8% are Black or African-American, 3% are Asian and 2% reported some other race.

Land Use: Approximately one third (32%) of the region’s land is classified as residential. Just under a quarter (24%) of the land is deemed vacant and about one in every five acres (21%) is wild, forested, conservation lands or public parks.

Agricultural lands comprise 10% of the region. Each of the remaining categories – Commercial, Public Services, Recreation and Entertainment, and Industrial represent less than 5% of land use in our region.

Of the four counties, Dutchess County has the most land dedicated to residential development (41%) and agriculture (18%). Sullivan County has the most vacant land (30%). In Ulster County, home of the Catskill Forest Preserve, over one third (34%) of the acreage is wild.

To see the full report CLICK HERE.

5 Popular Kitchen and Bathroom Upgrades

by Amy Hoak, RISMEDIA

Instead of playing the trade-up game, more homeowners are staying in their homes, upgrading kitchens and baths and building additions to accommodate their needs instead of moving into a bigger house, but there are also some early signs of an improving real estate market, according to a new survey of architecture firms.

More architects say they’re seeing demand for and inquiries about home-remodeling projects, including kitchen and bath upgrades and home additions. And an increasing percentage of architects say business conditions in the first-time buyer and affordable home market also improved in the fourth quarter of 2009, compared with the fourth quarter a year earlier, according to the American Institute of Architects’ Home Design Trends Survey. The survey of 500 residential architecture firms is conducted each quarter.

A net 28% of architects responding to the survey said they’re seeing greater interest among homeowners for kitchen and bath remodels, up from -16% a year ago, and a net 21% said demand for additions and alterations is improving, versus -14% a year ago. The survey figures are computed as the percentage of respondents reporting an improvement in business conditions minus those reporting a decrease.

Meanwhile, a net -4% of the architects surveyed said the market for homes for first-time buyers is improving, up from -65% a year earlier. A net -31% said the market for move-up homes is improving, compared with -71% a year ago.

“It’s still too early to think the residential market has fully recovered, but there are two encouraging signs—overall business conditions are far better than they were a year ago at this time, and we are seeing improvement in those housing sectors that need to lead a broader improvement in the housing market: remodeling and alterations of existing homes, and at the entry-level of the new construction market,” said Kermit Baker, chief economist of the American Institute of Architects.

Baker said homeowners are making improvements thoughtfully, not banking on recouping the entire cost at resale or over-improving with upscale features as they might have several years ago. And projects are typically smaller in scope these days. “The mentality is evolving that bigger isn’t better for my home, from an investment perspective,” Baker said.

As for first-time home buyers, Baker said that conditions are likely improving due to the first-time home buyer tax credit, low mortgage rates and the ability of these first-timers to buy a home without having to sell an existing home first.

For the most part, kitchens are being upgraded with practical improvements and features to make the space more usable. “A lot of the upscale stuff, like double appliances—two dishwashers or two refrigerators—or over-the-top appliances seem to have disappeared,” Baker said.

The five most popular kitchen products and features, according to the survey include:

-Recycling center, a designated place to put cans, papers, etc., which could be in the form of a nook or even part of the lower cabinetry
-Larger pantry space
-Renewable flooring materials
-Renewable countertop materials
-Computer area/recharging stations, dedicated to such tasks as recharging laptops, cell phones and PDAs.

The same desire for practicality and less glitz can be found in the bathroom. People are moving away from steam showers and towel-warming drawers and racks, and instead focusing on features that will help them better control their utility costs, Baker said.

The five most popular bathroom products and features include:
-Water-saving toilets
-Radiant heated floors
-Accessibility/universal design, or features that are adaptable and allow homeowners to age in place
-LED lighting
-Doorless showers.

Keep Close Tabs on Your Credit Score

by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

With banks tightening their grip on loans, getting one is requiring more work and vigilance on the borrower's part. Even people with excellent credit are jumping through hoops to verify everything and avoiding nicks that could give the appearance of being a risky borrower. There are a few strategies to employ that could improve the chances of not only getting a loan but getting a better rate.

One of the obvious ones, beyond paying bills on time, is to not be overextended on credit. Lenders look at how credit is managed, so someone with $10,000 credit limit but owes $9,000 won't appear as good a borrower as someone who owes only $1,000 of the $10,000 limit. Therefore, it is important to pay down credit before applying for a loan. This can help raise your credit score and get a better rate.

When you do pay down the debt, such as on a credit card, keep the account open to show lenders you have a long credit history and you are responsible by not maxing out every loan you get. Be wary, however, of some creditors who have started reducing credit limits as amounts are paid off. You may need to ask for the limit to be raised, or switch to a new credit card.

Next, verify your credit score every year, or right before you apply for a large loan such as a mortgage, to make sure there is nothing on the report that is inaccurate. While other credit report requests could harm your score, because it indicates you are looking for help often, requesting your own report does no damage to your record. There are three credit bureaus that maintain reports. Request them all through Reports are free once a year. Nearly eight in 10 reports have an error, according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups. Be wary of firms that offer free credit reports only after you sign up for another service with a monthly fee.

If you do see a mistake, follow the instructions to dispute the charge. If the mistake was caused by a certain circumstance you feel was not common, also dispute it.

The importance of good credit in our changing economy cannot be overemphasized. Those neglecting their credit are positioning themselves to be shut out of the economy, and at risk of not having a lifeline when times are tough. In addition, those with poor credit also face higher expenses as interest rates, insurance premiums, and rental rates can be higher for those without excellent credit, not to mention employers may shun applicants that do not demonstrate responsible money management.

Make it a point to audit your credit at least once a year and make managing it a priority in your life. Doing so will eliminate chances of financial disasters.

Kerhonkson Farm a Space for Film Magic

by Deborah Medenbach, Times Herald-Record

Three years ago, biochemist Claude Dal Farra was developing anti-aging creams for a cosmetic company in the French Rivera town of Sophia Antipolis. Nearby roads led to Cannes, but when the company was sold, Dal Farra left the coastal film Mecca for a job in New Jersey.

“I was used to living in the countryside in the south of France and New Jersey was too crowded, so I started looking in upstate New York,” Dal Farra said. A real estate agent showed him a former Arabian horse farm with a spacious house adjacent to a large stable and indoor riding ring. The only drawback were the other houses near enough to hinder his privacy. The real estate agent explained that he would own those houses as well. The entire property was 30 acres.

“You have to understand, this is unheard of in France. No one has 30 acres to themselves. I signed for it that very day,” Dal Farra said.

As he settled into his new job and upstate home, his brother Brice came to him with a dilemma. They had started a non-profit organization with some physician friends called the Anthropedia Foundation to create mental health and wellness videos, but they needed a better place for production. Claude offered some rooms in the barn as a makeshift studio.

“Then the economy took a downturn,” Claude said. Donations to the foundation dropped significantly and the brothers brainstormed last year about other ways they could support Anthropedia. What if they created another company to make for-profit films and used some of that to support the foundation work?

Brice, adept with finances, studied the business end of independent films to create movies with high production value while limiting costs. They obtained the needed permits to organize Claude’s Vinci Farm into a state-of-the art film production facility.

BCDF Pictures, the for-profit production company, with producer Jonathan Burkhart at the helm, filmed Vera Farmiga’s “Higher Ground” early this summer and is currently filming “Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding” directed by Academy Award-winning director Bruce Beresford and starring Jane Fonda and Catherine Keener. A third film goes into production sometime this fall.

Vinci Farm now has three state-of-the-art editing suites, a screening room, wardrobe department, art department, production offices and an acoustically engineered music studio with a control room, isolation booth and virtual orchestra feed room. There’s room for future growth.

“There’s nothing in the same stratosphere to what they have there,” said Laurent Rejto of the Hudson Valley Film Commission. “They could easily do three feature films a year there,” Rejto said. “They have 30 full-time jobs for people working in the film industry. We’re talking millions in revenue in a little place like Kerhonkson.”

A family philosophy the Dal Farras abide by in France and now in New York is to serve the communities they live in. “What’s good for Kerhonkson?” Claude asked. “I try to conduct all of our business within 15 miles of Vinci Farm.”

Crews are housed in area apartments and hotels, eat at local restaurants or have regional farm products catered to the set and use nearby businesses for supplies. The farm has a solar array for energy efficiency and adopts sustainable “green” practices keep waste to a minimum.

“If each person did the same thing, we’d all be happier,” Claude said. “For me it’s great to have access to local products and services. Perhaps in the future, we’ll be able to offer more housing in Kerhonkson.”

Vinci Farm is a key asset in a growing film industry infrastructure that turns producer’s weekend “getaways” to workweek “get tos.”

“We have the best designers in the country working in our art department for a chance to work with Bruce Beresford and Jane Fonda,” BCDF Pictures producer’s assistant Jason Nicholson said during a walk at the farm.

Beresford paused on his way through Vinci Farm’s flagstone lobby on his way to a meeting. “I love this script. I wouldn’t be working on it if I didn’t,” Beresford said. “What I didn’t expect was that upstate New York would be so beautiful to work in. Who knew?”

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Contact Information

Photo of Laurel Sweeney Real Estate
Laurel Sweeney
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Nutshell Realty
1209 State Route 213, PO Box 452
High Falls NY 12440
Office: 845-687-2200
Toll Free 877-468-5783
Fax: 845-687-4162

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